UNCW studies binge drinking among teens

Researchers at UNCW are looking at the impact underage drinking has on teens.
Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 7:46 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As people gather for the holidays, plenty of parties will be hosted, often involving drinking in some capacity. Unfortunately, some teenagers will get their hands on alcohol as well.

Researchers at UNCW are looking at the impact underage drinking has on teens. The numbers show that when teens do drink, they drink much more than adults: 9 in every 10 teens that drink alcohol binge drink, an alarming finding.

The psychology department at UNCW was just awarded a $300,000 grant to study the impact binge drinking has on the brain. The research focuses on 12 to 17-year-olds who have faced adversity, such as child abuse or neglect, if their parents had spent time in jail or struggled with health issues or mental illness.

Two ideas are that these teens may not have a strong influence in their lives to steer them away from binge drinking or that they may use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“The goal of the study is alcohol use prevention among teens, especially binge drinking prevention because it’s so dangerous. We’re hoping that we can find some ways to say if a teen has experienced this or that adversity, here’s some brain changes that we’ve noticed. And here’s some then strategies that you can do to help the teens be stronger so that they don’t engage in high-risk alcohol use,” said Dr. Kate Nooner, UNCW department of psychology professor

Dr. Nooner wants to provide prevention strategies and offer alternatives, such as mindfulness exercises or impulse control programs. Previous studies have shown how alcohol plays a negative role in developing minds at a young age, and this study seeks to further that understanding.

The CDC lists binge drinking as consuming 4 to 5 alcoholic drinks on an occasion. For adults, that may not seem like much, but for teens with little experience of drinking, it can quickly lead to dangerous outcomes like blackouts, drunk driving and sexual assault.

Dr. Nooner said that’s why it’s important to talk with your kids about drinking. Additionally, it’s important to not pretend like it’s not a part of their lives.

“Alcohol use is happening with teens and it’s not something to freak out about, but it’s also not something to turn a blind eye on. I think having opportunities for teens to socialize where they can kind of feel somewhat free and be with their peers to have a nice time, but there’s either some level of supervision or it’s in some setting where alcohol isn’t part of it,” said Dr. Nooner.

She explained that teens typically drink in secrecy and a private setting, usually in a house when parents aren’t around. The best thing is to ease them into adolescence, while also keeping an eye on them.